Flexible Scheduling

How many schools are using block scheduling? What is flexible and block scheduling? What are the benefits of flexible scheduling?


Rationale and justification

Alternate scheduling patterns address the concern for more appropriate learning environments for students and respond to the need, not for schools to be more organized, but to be more flexible and creative in the use of time (Spear, 1992). It has become apparent to practitioners that the structure of the school schedule influences the degree to which middle level schools respond to the developmental needs of their students (Williamson, 1993). The type of schedule which enables schools to incorporate the most recommended practices is known as flexible scheduling, a feature of exemplary schools that restructures resources by optimizing time, space, and staff and facilitates varied curriculum offerings and teaching strategies (Canady, 1995).

Benefits of flexible scheduling

Offering a choice of time configurations, flexible scheduling benefits both students and teachers. Large blocks of time can enhance teaming by providing time for teachers to plan together during a common planning time and to develop various learning activities that vary the location of classes and routine (Erb & Doda, 1989). Teachers can improve their teaching strategies and have less stress factors, such as a lower number of students per day, more quality time, more in-depth exploration of topics, and curricular integration. Teachers are directly involved with students and are the best judge of time requirements for learning activities. Blocks of time enable them to make choices and have more control over the learning environment. Teachers also move from the role of lecturer to facilitator and guide, while having sufficient class time to use hand-on activities, groupwork, project-based learning, technology, the media center, local organizations, and interactions with the community in service learning units.

With large blocks of time to facilitate involvement, students benefit from less fragmentation and more engagement in project-based learning and interdisciplinary activities, promoting skill application, interpersonal relations, and decision-making skills related to concrete, relevant problems (Vars, 1993). Results indicate increased student engagement and achievement and positive social ramifications (Arhar, 1992).

Types of flexible scheduling

Block Scheduling: Most often used by interdisciplinary teams, blocks of time usually consist of two or more combined periods, sometimes scheduled as one block in the morning and one block in the afternoon. A team may decide to use the morning block for a project library session with half the team of students, flip-flopping the session with the second half of the students in the afternoon block of time. Or, one teacher may provide instruction in two subjects, such as in language arts and social studies, or math and science. Alternate Day Classes: Classes are assigned on an-every-other- day basis during the week. A student can take music on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and art on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or a career class and a study skills class can meet on alternate days, taught by two teachers or the same teacher, depending on staffing requirements.

Rotating Schedules: Following a master schedule of all classes in sequence, classes are held at different times each day, by rotating the classes one period later each day. This process enables students to have all subjects at various times of the day and can be implemented by teams or by an entire school. Thus a student might have math at 9 A.M. on Monday, at 10 A.M. on Tuesday, at 11 A.M. on Wednesday, etc.

Dropped Schedule: Students are scheduled for more classes than class periods, with one class being dropped on any given day. This schedule provides allotted times for advisory programs, silent sustained reading, assemblies, study skill instruction, and other extra offerings. For example, the last period of the day may be filled with clubs on Monday, student council and service units on Tuesday, study skill instruction on Wednesday, sustained silent readying on Thursday, and assembles (school or team) on Fridays.

Current use of flexible scheduling

While most middle level educators recommend flexible scheduling, the current rate of implementation (about 20%) points to the common difficulties such as curriculum requirements, lunch periods, and bus schedules. However, the benefits for students and teachers prompt the gradual increased use projected by principals (Epstein & Mac Iver, 1990).

Most exemplary middle schools appear to use some form of flexible scheduling. In a survey of nominated exemplary middle schools (George & Shewey, 1994), 75% of the respondents indicated that flexible (sometimes block) scheduling was moderate to well developed at their schools.

Randomly sampled middle schools, however, show less implementation of flexible scheduling. A national study (Valentine et. al., 1993) found the majority of middle schools utilize 7 instructional periods with 41 to 55 minutes per period. These findings support those of Epstein & Mac Iver (1990) and Alexander and McEwin (1989).

Epstein and Mac Iver (1990) concluded flexible scheduling to be one of the least implemented middle school practices with 19% of the 1753 responding principals of the random sample indicating its use. However, these researchers predicted an overall increase of 10% or more, noting, “Flexible scheduling is presently most common in K-8 schools (over 50%) where teachers may have more control over the way they schedule time” (Epstein & Mac Iver, 1990).

Alexander (1968) reported 30% of the respondents indicated scheduling other than the daily period uniform in length. Alexander and McEwin (1989) reported non-uniform daily scheduling by grades: 60% in Grade 5, 33% in Grade 6, 18% in Grades 7 and 8. They concluded, “It is clear that there had been no decline in the use of the relatively inflexible uniform period day in the middle school” (p.36).

However, McEwin, Dickinson, and Jenkins (1995) report a significant increase in the use of flexible scheduling within blocks for teams at all grade levels, particularly in 6-8 schools. They conclude: “These data demonstrate the continued growth of team organizations with flexible control over daily schedules” (p.38).

Related Articles

1. Chapter 7, “Building a Block-Time Schedule” from Scheduling the Middle Level School, Ron Williamson (1993), Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
2. Chapter 11, “Flexible Scheduling” from Building an Effective Middle School, L.G. Romano & N.P. Georgiady, (1994). Brown and Benchmark.
3. Appendix E, “Factors to Consider in Selecting a Scheduling Program” from Scheduling the Middle Level School, Ron Williamson (1993), Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
3. Spear, R.C. (1992). Middle level team scheduling: Appropriate grouping for adolescents. Schools in the Middle, 2(1), 30-34.

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  • Arhar, J. M. (1992). Interdisciplinary teaming and the social bonding of middle level students. In J. L. Irvin (Ed.), Transforming middle level education: Perspectives and possibilities (pp.139-161). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Canady, R. L. & Rettig, M.D. (1995, November). School scheduling. Educational Leader- ship, Epstein, J. L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (1990). Education in the middle grades: Overview of national practices and trends. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
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  • Merenbloom, E. (1994) The team process: A handbook for teachers. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.
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  • Vars, G. F. (1993). Interdisciplinary teaching: Why and how. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association.